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The Planet

The Planet
December 1998 Volume 5, Number 10

on the border

Data Deficit


by John Byrne Barry

Michael Gregory knows that the maquiladora factories just south of the Mexican border are polluting the air and water. The Rio Grande, where it even flows at all, is undeniably a toxic soup.

But hard evidence is in short supply. "We don't know how much they're putting out individually or as a whole," says Gregory, member of the Club's Environmental Quality and International committees and director of Arizona Toxics Information.

These plants are not required to make public any data about their emissions. Obtaining this information is a critical part of any cleanup efforts, he says.

That's where the PRTRs - the pollutant release and transfer registers - come in. PRTR is the global term for what Americans call the Toxic Release Inventory, or TRI, a public database listing major sources of major toxic pollutants.

The creation of "right-to-know" programs for industrializing countries evolved from a recommendation of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Over 200 nations in Rio agreed on the need for a toxics inventory, but the pressure to collect this data in Mexico has come from a pincer movement, says Gregory: from "above" - the powerful Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has pushed member states, now including Mexico, to develop such programs - and "below" - grassroots activists working along the border.

The Sierra Club, working with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, created by a NAFTA side agreement, helped develop a North American PRTR, which will list emissions from the three NAFTA signatories. But no data has yet been collected from Mexico, except in a pilot program in the state of Queretaro.

Even though it's not complete, Mexico's initiative is already serving as an impetus to other Latin American countries.

"The only way we can have effective environmental protection along the border is to require public disclosure of facility-specific and chemical-specific emissions on both sides of the border," says Gregory.

"Disclosure allows comparisons. Without it, we can't pressure the bad polluters and praise the companies that run relatively clean shops."

For more information: Contact Michael Gregory at (520) 432-5374; aztoxic@primenet.com.


Go on to the next article, "Dump Denied"

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